Education & Family

London Metropolitan University starts visa legal action

London Metropolitan University
Image caption Last week the university lost its licence to recruit and teach overseas students

A London university is to launch legal action against the UK Border Agency's decision to revoke its licence to sponsor international students.

London Metropolitan University said it was taking action so its students could return "as a matter of urgency".

The government revoked London Met's "highly trusted" status last week.

The UKBA found a quarter of overseas students sampled had no permission to stay in the UK. It said it would "strongly contest" any legal action.

It was not immediately clear what form of legal action was planned but this could include a judicial review of the UKBA's decision to revoke its licence.

In a statement, the university said the UKBA's move could cost it £30m a year and it promised to "defend its reputation".

London Met vice-chancellor Professor Malcolm Gillies, said: "London Met will fight this revocation, which is based on a highly flawed report by the UKBA. The university will continue to give top priority to the interests of our international students who have been so distressed by this precipitate action."

Earlier Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, whose constituency houses much of the university, called on the Immigration Minister Damian Green to allow overseas students already studying at the university to complete their degrees.

'Appalling image'

But Mr Green said he would "enforce the rules".

Mr Corbyn said last week's decision by the UKBA had created an "appalling image" which would damage the reputation of British universities among international students.

Image caption Damian Green told the Commons legitimate students would be protected

Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, visited the university earlier and said the decision had left a left a large number of genuine students with nowhere to study.

"This cannot be right or fair to them. I hope the legal issues are resolved speedily," he said.

On Monday evening, London Met issued a statement which said: "London Metropolitan University has tonight instructed its lawyers Penningtons Solicitors LLP to commence urgent legal action to challenge the revocation of its highly trusted status for sponsoring international students, so that its students can return to study as a matter of urgency.

"Following the leak of the UK Border Agency's decision eight days ago which 'announced' the revocation, the university has now had the opportunity to read the report."

As well as preventing the university from recruiting new overseas students, it will also mean that about 2,600 existing overseas students must find a place elsewhere to finish their studies.

Facing questions on the decision in the House of Commons, Mr Green said there would be a task force providing advice and support for such displaced students.

But he emphasised the necessity of implementing the immigration rules, telling MPs that the university had "significant systemic problems" in its recruitment of overseas students.

Mr Green also pointed out the 60 days allowed to students to find an alternative course before they had to leave the country would not begin until formal notification had been issued.

The minister told MPs that such letters would not be sent until next month.

Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said Labour supported a crackdown on bogus students but said: "We need to foster an international reputation for high value education, not undermine it.

"The government has acted at the most disruptive time of year in the most disruptive way - yet more ministerial incompetence. Legitimate international students bring in £3.3bn in to this country's economy."

The university said: "Working with its advisers, the university has conducted a thorough review of UKBA's 'evidence', and in the strongest possible terms challenges the outcome."

It said there was "no evidence of systemic failings" and said it would announce further details of the legal action it planned later this week.

The National Union of Students has expressed its anger at the problems for overseas students at the university and warned of a "potentially catastrophic" threat to the international appeal of the UK's higher education sector.

A UKBA spokeswoman said: "The revocation of London Metropolitan University's sponsor licence was the correct course of action and we will strongly contest any legal challenge."

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